1 MISTER LOVE HER, LOVE HER
The ‘road to Brexit’ speeches start this week, as individual Cabinet ministers set out their stall ahead of the big Chequers’ pow-wow and Theresa May’s own grand ‘coming together’ address this month. As revealed by HuffPost and others last week, Boris Johnson’s speech is set for Valentine’s Day on Wednesday and he’ll be pledging his undying loyalty to the PM, making absolutely clear she has his full support. Rather more improbably, he will also try to balm the wounds of defeated Remainers.
I’m told the Foreign Secretary will deal in big picture and tone, rather than deliver detailed red lines on trade that could cause problems for No.10. His aide Conor Burns told Radio 4′s Westminster Hour last night: “It’s an attempt to show that you can be liberal-minded, internationalist and global and support Brexit. You don’t have to have a Faragiste notion of the world to be a Brexit supporter.” It’s no surprise that Philip Hammond doesn’t want to irk his critics further with a speech of his own, yet it’s interesting that Michael Gove is allowing Boris to take the lead for the Leavers. Yesterday, Tory backbencher Sarah Wollaston came up with her own term to describe hardline Brexiteers, warning the PM to defy the ‘Mogglodytes’ and ‘go down fighting’ by backing UK membership of EFTA.
One area where Theresa May could have overreached herself is on the status of new EU migrants’ rights during a transition. On the plane to China last week she told us “there’s a difference” between those who arrived before and after the Brexit vote. The Times reports today the Home Office argued last month they should be treated the same as it would ‘almost certainly’ not be able to set up a separate registration scheme for new and current migrants in time for March 2019. May overruled officials, but Brussels sounds determined to halt her plan.
David Davis’s speech to business about Brexit (which won’t be this week) could be the real one to watch. And he may be cheered up by Charles Grant, of the Centre for European Reform, who tweeted yesterday that up to 12 EU states “have some concerns about the ‘hard’ line taken” on Brexit by France, Germany and the European Commission, “particularly on the narrow scope of the deal that they appear to want to offer UK”. He adds that the dozen lack a leader, however. And one French official told Reuters: “Striking how countries like Denmark, which are intellectually close to the UK say: if we let them have their cake & eat it, all hell will break loose at home”. That’s the heart of the debate, right there.
2. CHARITY OMISSION
The Times’ investigation into sexual exploitation by senior Oxfam staff in Haiti has certainly had a huge impact. Other cases of other charities, and UN workers, accused of similar misconduct have been floating around for some time but the alleged Oxfam cover-up has sparked what could be a real watershed moment. It was claimed yesterday that 120 workers for Britain’s leading charities were accused of sexual abuse in the past year alone. International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt yesterday told the Marr Show that the charity had failed to show ‘moral leadership’ and is considering whether Oxfam should receive any more funding from the government - which gave it £32m in the last financial year. Director of investigations at the Charity Commission told the Today programme that if the regulator had known the full details of what had happened at the time with Oxfam, it would have “dealt with things differently”.
One of the most shocking revelations was that Oxfam staffer Roland van Hauwermeiren used an Oxfam-funded villa to host prostitutes, some allegedly under-18, in the wake of its earthquake disaster. And that the charity’s CEO Barbara Stocking allegedly offered him, “a phased and dignified exit” because sacking him would have “potentially serious implications” for the charity’s work and reputation”. Murray Edwards, the Cambridge college where Stocking is president, is currently standing by her. Present chief exec Mark Goldring, last night told the BBC that describing details of the behaviour at the time could have drawn “extreme attention” to it. Goldring denied the charity lied to the government in 2011 about what happened in Haiti when reporting it only as “misconduct”, but he did tell ITVNews: “I recognise by telling half a story it feels that way, and with hindsight we should’ve told the whole story.”
Mordaunt’s predecessor Priti Patel told the BBC yesterday the Oxfam case was ‘the tip of the iceberg’. She tells the Sun that officials “at the highest levels” of DfID knew about some allegations and she was even urged not to raise the UN in a speech last year. “Why was a government department not calling for prosecutions, and taking money away from Oxfam as far back at 2011?” Patel asks. Will Andrew Mitchell, who was in charge at the time, respond to that today? Tory MP Conor Burns told Radio 4 last night a friend of his was the one who alerted Patel that “the United Nations were covering up officials within the UN engaging in paedophile activity..That was shared, I believe, with some people within the Foreign Office”. Yet another question that needs further exploration.
Mordaunt meets senior Oxfam managers today. She’s keenly aware that there are some in her party who have long disagreed with the 0.7% aid target, and needs to show taxpayers’ money is being well spent. Several columnists, including Matt D’Ancona and Matthew Norman, today defend that aid target while condemning the Oxfam scandal. Meanwhile, one former British diplomat, Arthur Snell, tweeted last night: “Anybody who has worked in stabilisation missions will know that the biggest users of sex workers are the military and security contractors.” Will that be the next area for investigation?
3 ROYALTY CLAUSE
A new NHS England Stay Well Pharmacy campaign is to urge parents of young children with minor illnesses should take them to the chemist rather than GPs or A&E. This is after a survey found just 6% of parents with under-fives would go to a pharmacist first. While the plan is to save £850m a year, the Patients Association says the ‘timing is not a coincidence’ and says ‘years of underfunding’ are really to blame for the need to ease pressure on the NHS.
But perhaps the most intriguing political story is whether the Government or Opposition will back a cross-party Royal Commission to review funding options. The Sun on Saturday reported Tory MPs thought Jeremy Hunt was “now ready to act”, as aides pointed to his recent line about ‘longer term’ planning. Yesterday, Labour’s Jon Ashworth ruled out a Royal Commission, telling the Indy he doesn’t back a ‘talking shop’ that kicks the issue ‘into the long grass’. Still, will Labour back an alternative, swifter model for cross-party working, other than a laborious Royal Commission?
Will both main parties be brave enough to support ‘hypothecation’ of taxes to give the NHS the extra cash its bosses say it needs? The idea of a ring-fencing tax is gaining support. The Treasury traditionally hates the idea (even though National Insurance was set up as hypothecated levy), but polls suggest the public likes it. In today’s FT, ex Treasury chief Sir Nick Macpherson backs a new NI-style tax of 2%, with pensioners paying as well as those of working age. George Osborne opened the door to hypothecation in 2015 when he quietly sneaked in the recreation of the Roads Fund, funded by road tax, for major road repairs from 2020. Watch this space.
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Watch this toad meet its match when it tries to eat this Bombardier beetle
4. GAVIN AND PAYSKI
A fortnight ago, as he tried to throw up flak to distract from his ‘flirtation’ with a former colleague, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson warned a Russian cyber attack on the UK could kill ‘thousands and thousands’. Today, the Mirror has followed up a Mail on Sunday scoop that he is set to give Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of a former Putin ‘crony’, a tour of the Churchill War Rooms (plus dinner), after she bid £30,000 in the Tory black and white ball fundraiser last week. I suspect the real problem won’t be the dinner or whether her husband really is a Kremlin ally. It will be whether any minister can use a publicly-funded venue like the CWR to raise cash for party politics.
Meanwhile, Google and Facebook are under fresh attack for not just alleged Russian interference in elections, but for a wider failure to block hateful, terror-linked or abusive content. The FT has a report that will make the online giants sit up and really take notice, with Unilever, the world’s second-biggest marketing spender, is threatening to pull its advertising if the firms “create division”, foster hate or fail to protect children. Unilever’s Keith Weed says: “Consumers don’t care about third-party verification. They do care about fraudulent practice, fake news, and Russians influencing the US election.”
5. TRUMP SICK
A new ComRes poll has found that 56% of MPs want training in sexual consent, with 25% opposing the idea. Meanwhile Donald Trump has again stirred things with a weekend tweet on sex harassment declaring that: “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new.” Trump has a long history of defending men, including himself, accused of sexual assault and harassment.
But the website Axios reports a new development in the case of Rob Porter, a White House aide who quit last week after reports surfaced of domestic abuse of his two former wives. Trump has been publicly defending Porter, but Axios says the President turned on him after reading a print-out of DailyMail.com story detailing the abuse. Trump said he was shocked that his clean-cut Harvard aide could have violently attacked women. He told associates that he views men who beat their wives the same way he views child molesters: as “sick puppies”. At the same time, Trump tells friends that he deplores the #MeToo movement and believes it unfairly exposes CEOs to lawsuits from their female employees. No, really.
SUNDAY SHOWS ROUND-UP